US Secretary of State John Kerry to visit Israel, Palestinian Territories
Agence France-Presse in Jerusalem
US Secretary of State John Kerry will make a New Year's Day trip to Israel and the Palestinian Territories, aiming to push forward peace talks as a nine-month deadline looms.
The announcement of Kerry's 10th visit to the region since March came as Israel confirmed it would release another 26 Palestinian prisoners as soon as Monday.
"On January 1, Secretary of State John Kerry will travel to Jerusalem to meet with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu, and to Ramallah to meet with President [Mahmoud] Abbas," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Saturday.
After persuading the two sides to resume talks, Kerry has been pushing the Israelis and the Palestinians to reach a peace deal ahead of a deadline set to expire in late April. A Palestinian official said Kerry would meet with Abbas on January 4.
Psaki did not say how long Kerry would stay in Israel but Palestinian sources said it would be a "number of days".
As part of the US-brokered deal that led to the relaunch of the peace talks in July, "the release of 26 Palestinian prisoners was authorised this evening", said a statement from Netanyahu's office. The prisoners were due to be freed "at least 48 hours" after a list of their names was published on Saturday night, the statement added.
Israel agreed to free a total of 104 Palestinian prisoners during the peace talks, and has already released 52 in two separate batches. After the third group is released, the remaining inmates are due to walk free in March 2014.